If your flight is canceled or delayed in the U.S., depending on the reason, it’s good to know what your rights are. By understanding the airline’s contract of carriage, you can make sure you are being treated fairly and will receive compensation or a refund if required.
Your rights during interrupted travel vary by airline. When there’s a flight delay or cancellation, airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. If the delay is two or more hours, you have the option of accepting the rebooked flight, finding an alternate flight, or requesting a full refund (non-refundable tickets included) for the portion of the unused ticket. The refund would include payment for any added services (like baggage fees), but ticketing fees would be non-refundable.
If the flight delay is a day or more later, some airlines will allow you to change your return date to make up for the time lost.
For substantial delays, the airline may offer the option of flying standby, or it may provide a travel waiver for an alternate flight on another date, both without change fees. You can also choose to fly out of a nearby airport if the airline has flights available. You’d be responsible for getting yourself to the new airport.
Some airlines may offer a travel voucher in lieu of a refund. It’s in your best interest to take the refund because vouchers usually have stipulations attached to them.
If your connecting flight on the outbound portion of a round-trip is canceled at the connecting point, and you no longer need to travel onward, the airline may book you on a flight back to your point of origin at no cost and refund the value of your ticket.
Canceled flights can also result in passengers having to spend more money. An overnight delay will add lodging and meal expenses. Delays that are out of the airline’s control, like weather conditions or air traffic control problems, usually result in passengers having to pay for these expenses out of their own pocket. However, it never hurts to ask for assistance. You may get a representative who is responsive to your needs.
Airlines will not cover the cost of a rental car or for a flight on another airline. There are instances when an airline, at their sole discretion, may book a passenger on another airline if it has no flights available. It is not required to do so and this is not the norm, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
If a flight delay is within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical issue or a crew shortage, then, some airlines will cover your expenses (or reimburse you) for hotel, ground transportation, and meals. If the delay is due to force majeure, including weather, the airlines generally do not offer compensation.
Department of Transportation
The Department of Transportation (DOT) enforces several regulations that apply to airlines. These are your rights as a passenger:
- You can cancel your ticket (even if it’s non-refundable) within 24 hours of booking it and receive a full refund. It must be booked at least seven days prior to departure.
- You must have access to the terms and conditions of each airline’s contract of carriage.
- The DOT does not allow domestic flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours unless it is a safety or security issue or the air traffic control does not allow the plane to move. In cases where the plane is stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours, passengers have the right to a working toilet and water.
If an airline bumps you from a flight because it is overbooked, you are due compensation if it is unable to get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time. If you are delayed two or more hours, the airline should pay you 200% of the one-way fare ($675 maximum). If the delay is more than four hours, you are due $400% ($1,350 maximum). This payment is for the inconvenience you had to endure and is mandated by the Department of Transportation.
The airline should pay bumped passengers by check or issue a credit to their credit card. It may try to offer vouchers or other non-monetary compensation, but you have the right to request a check or credit.
There are no Guarantees when Flying
The airlines make it clear that they do not make any guarantees to passengers. They have the right to change their schedule at any time. They do not guarantee seat assignments or that family will be grouped together – even if young children are involved. They do not refund baggage fees if bags are not delivered when your flight arrives.
Airlines are not responsible if you miss a cruise, meeting/event, connecting flight, or run into any other problems because of a delayed or canceled flight.
If you become ill and are unable to fly, the airline will not issue you a refund. Tickets are non-transferable and cannot be used by others.
The airlines own your frequent flyer miles, and they have the right to make changes at any time.
On the other hand, if passengers miss a flight or need to change their itinerary, they pay a hefty fee or even forfeit the entire amount they paid for their ticket. But if the airline fails to transport passengers to their destination in a timely manner and can hide behind a force majeure event, guess who pays? The passenger.
Flights are delayed and canceled every day — most travelers get that. It becomes a problem when passengers are on the losing end, no matter which party is responsible. It’s like gambling: The cards are stacked in favor of the casino, and the house wins. The airlines have figured out how to rig the game — at the passengers’ expense.